TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – First lady Michelle Obama was traveling to Topeka to meet with students and speak at an event honoring the city’s high school graduates on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional.
Obama’s events Friday were scheduled after the initial announcement of her trip last month stirred criticism in the Kansas capital. She’d initially planned to speak Saturday during a combined graduation ceremony for five schools, but those plans inspired an online petition, with some parents and students worried that the arena for the speech wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate all the students’ family members.
She also was venturing into hostile political territory for Democratic President Barack Obama, who received only 38 percent of the vote in Republican-leaning Kansas in seeking re-election in 2012. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback is a frequent and vocal critic of the administration, but he plans to be on stage when she gives her speech, his office said.
The White House said Michelle Obama would meet before her speech with high school students who are participating in a federally funded program that prepares poor children and children in foster care for higher education.
Saturday is the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education against school segregation.
The case takes its name from a federal lawsuit filed in Topeka by parents recruited by local NAACP leaders, combined with other cases from Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia. The first plaintiff listed was Oliver Brown, whose daughter was not allowed to enroll in an all-white elementary school near their home.
A national park site dedicated to the history of the case and the civil rights movement is now housed in a former all-black elementary school in central Topeka. President George W. Bush spoke outside on the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision in 2004.